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The current gossip flying over brews in Northwest ski bars centers on the possible transformation of a two-bit hill-50 acres with a 330-foot drop-on Oregon's Mount Hood into something much more exciting-and controversial.

Last year, a subsidiary of Mt. Hood Meadows Ski Resort bought a 1,400-acre public-land lease from nearby Cooper Spur Resort and also amassed 800 acres of private land just one mile from Cooper Spur's lifts. The company plans to install a chairlift that would boost the area's vertical to 1,000 feet (with a snowcat accessing yet another 1,000), according to Dave Riley, vice president and general manager for the ski areas. The plan also includes building up to 450 condos and homes, as well as a golf course and shops, on the mountain's north side.

Executing the first stages would take two to three years, in part due to the stricter environmental hurdles that have been created since the plan was originally approved by the Forest Service in 1983. Despite the challenges, Riley said even more lifts could be added eventually. "There are some ridges and bowls and a lot of glade skiing that has super potential," Riley said. "It would be nice to take advantage of that."

But don't expect the ski hill to morph into Whistler anytime soon. Inevitably, the idea of a big resort sprouting up on the largely undeveloped northern flank of Hood infuriates several groups-particularly those in nearby Hood River, whose residents fear the loss of their bucolic valley. "Building a large destination resort is the worst thing that could happen to Hood," said Kate McCarthy of Friends of Mount Hood. Stay tuned.

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